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The Great Library of Amazonia 140

theodp writes "Amazon had a dream. To bring the world a modern-day Library of Alexandria. Apparently they had a second dream. To own the patents on it. Interestingly, fears of lost cookbook and reference text sales voiced by the Author's Guild are echoed in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos's patent application for the Suppression of features in digital images of content and a9.com CEO Udi Manber's follow up Access to electronic images of text based on user ownership of corresponding physical text, which discuss how one might block content from viewers who have no proof-of-purchase for a book on file with booksellers."
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The Great Library of Amazonia

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  • by Templar ( 14386 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:18AM (#12035008) Homepage
    Oh my. Hypocracy in corporate America. I'm shocked.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:24AM (#12035063)
      Companies generally don't do things just to be evil, they do things to make money.

      Design a system where honesty and ethics are rewarded big bucks, and you'll see companies fall all over themselves to be corporate saints.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        Design a system where honesty and ethics are rewarded big bucks, and you'll see companies fall all over themselves to be corporate saints.
        Except, of course, that free marketeers vigorously oppose efforts to create such a system. See how they rail against government regulations and socially responsible investment efforts. Pollutes the "purity" of the free market, don'tcha know.
      • Or to find loopholes that satisfy the "saintliness" criteria as cheaply as possible.
      • Companies generally don't do things just to be evil, they do things to make money.

        Contract killers generally don't kill people just to be evil, they kill people to make money.

        Are you really putting this forward as a valid excuse? After all, Enron was only cooking their books to make money. I could run around sticking pins in people - it's minor enough harm that no one would probably call the cops, but I really shouldn't be doing it in the first place. Harm is harm - even if it is minor or indirect enoug

  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:21AM (#12035043)
    I never can fully understand these patent writeups but I want to know if this will only allow you to search through full-texts of books you have proven you own.

    Why can't you be shown a snippet of the text through fair-use? You should be able to retrieve that information freely w/o restriction IMHO but IANAL.

    What about libraries that own these books. Could they setup a link to this searchable database so their patrons could look through books that the library owns? That sounds like a good idea to me ;)
    • A library could do something like that. But only if they have a mechanism to ensure that the number of concurrent users for their electronic version of the book is less than or equal to the number of physical copies of the book in the library, not being used by patrons, at the time the ebook is being used.

      Quite frankly, you're not going to find [m]any public libraries with the resources to digitize their entire collections and the desire to actually manage something like that. It would almost certainly b

      • Well, as long as certain sections of the book aren't being copied at the same time I don't see the problem.

        If someone is copying information out of a reference book as part of fair-use and that book cannot leave the library why can't someone else be accessing a completely different section of the same book?
    • "That sounds like a good idea to me ;)"

      Sounds like a good idea to you?

      Well, you're not a writer. Hard enough to make a living already, without giving it away for free.
  • Of course. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "...discuss how one might block content from viewers who have no proof-of-purchase for a book on file with booksellers."

    Because this was an issue back in the day in the library of Alexandria too, with those pesky raiding marauders burning books without a proof of purchase on file from booksellers!
    • This brings up an interesting point: is it allowed, under the various copyright laws, to burn books (or erase electronically stored copies) or material which you do know have the right to read ? You might be interfering with the rightful owner's potential future income stream.
  • by justkarl ( 775856 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:23AM (#12035058)
    But it seems to me that if they were supressing images and images of text to people who didn't own a proof-of-purchase, it would defeat the purpose of having that information available.
    • Yeah, I agree. I don't get it either. It'd be like showing shirts only to those who already bought the shirt.

      I thought the point of having the images of text on Amazon was so that those who didn't have the book could check some of it out BEFORE buying.

      Then again, maybe I should have read the article before posting.
    • I agree, and also, the guy that submitted this story to Slashdot didn't make it any clearer. He put in about a million links that go all over the place, so I still don't really see what the bottom line on this story is.

      Can anyone fill me in? Me dumb...
    • by yintercept ( 517362 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @12:41PM (#12036408) Homepage Journal
      supressing images and images of text to people who didn't own a proof-of-purchase

      Rather than saying that they block images from people who don't own a proof a purchase to saying that they allow you access to the electronic images of the text if you purchase from Amazon, then you get a completely different picture of the meaning of such a patent.

      Basically, Amazon would be able to give people who purchase through Amazon more than their competitors. When you purchase a book through Amazon, you get both an eBook and the book. While if you purchase through the quaint bookstore down the street, you get just the book.

      Giving both an ebook and a book when you purchase through Amazon.com, and using a patent to essentially block other dot coms from doing the same could really firm up Amazon's position in the book selling industry.

      This looks a little bit like the Beam It Up case that cost MP3.com its hide. MP3.com said that if you owned a copy of a CD, then that entitled you to add it to your MP3.com playlist. The record industry quickly extracted the soul from MP3 for its beam it up technology. I doubt the author's guild has sufficient power to extract Amazons.com's soul. First, the pirating of music on Napster made it easy for the RIAA to paint the punk kids using MP3.com as anarchists. Books are often purchased by staid and true baby boomers. There are even some Republicans who read books. Amazon.com is probably smart enough not to put their technology forward as something that will move the earth. MP3.com seemed convinced they were transforming the enire culture.

    • They suppress access so they can charge people to use it if they don't own the book. You have to have the patent first before you can make the money... otherwise it's just another free internet-copyable service.
    • If you read the wired article in the first link, there's an explanation about the benefits of this. The idea is that finding information in physical books is hard. If you could have digitally search through every book you own, thats worth something.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:23AM (#12035061)
    At the time it was published, it was easy to look on Richard Stallman's story, The Right To Read [gnu.org], as dystopian hyperbole. It was easy to believe that he was writing about an exaggerated worst case that could never come to pass. Sadly, with each passing year it looks more and more like the only thing he was wrong about was how quickly it could happen.
    • by ClarkEvans ( 102211 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:48AM (#12035248) Homepage
      and rightly so -- the world he writes about is very alarming -- and we are flirting with such a world. By calling him "not an alarmist" you're degrading those people who rightfully raise red flags. People who were right about bad trends that happened to take a bit longer than they predicted. Stallman was smart, he made his predictions far far off into the future (yet, a bit less than the term of a copyright...)

      • Actually the definition of 'alarmist' is someone who raises FALSE alarms. So no, Stallman is not an alarmist.

        alarmist (-lärmst)
        A person who needlessly alarms or attempts to alarm others, as by inventing or spreading false or exaggerated rumors of impending danger or catastrophe.

  • Vote with your feet (Score:3, Informative)

    by wheelbarrow ( 811145 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:24AM (#12035067)
    So what?

    If you don't like what Amazon is doing then vote with your feet and walk away from them. If enough consumers make the same free and voluntary choice that you do then Amazon will have to change or close their doors for good. Remember Amazon only exists because they give people what they want.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is not insightful. The old system of libraries works, this system doesn't -- it creates a world of "have" and "have-nots". It keeps those (esp. children) without money/education in a disadvantaged state. This world is everything but a world of opportunity... its a world of opression. It has _nothing_ to do with freedom.

      Now, if copyright was for 24 years, I'd be OK with this -- but it is not, it is, for all practical purposes, infinite.
    • Exactly! I have been staying away from them because I don't like reading every other day about their patent antics. If more people did this, maybe they'd think before they paid a (patent lawyer) retainer.
    • How will a critical mass of people ever walk away, if stories such as this one aren't around to make them aware of the issues involved?
    • Sorry, first time poster on slashdot. Don't crisp me please.

      No one is going to do that, seriously.
      This is not cynicism (ok maybe a wee bit) but

      People have not started using, or are aware of, the explicit category DRMed material, vs the categories Books/CDs/DVDs.

      Buying a CD is viewed as buying Music, not as buying a program, or a device to 'restrict' the usage of the data on it.

      People currently believe they are buying "A song", "A book", "An album". Their buying habits reflect this reality.
      The average c
    • Your silly Capitalist dogma would only be true if there were an infinite number of businesses offering an infinite number of options to people, including a vast library of Amazon's size less rights-restricted than Amazon proposes.

      This is obviously not so; thus your dogma is untrue. But don't let that prevent you from believing in it.

      • There are an infinite number of people who could choose to create alternative options to Amazon. They don't choose to. Perhaps this is because people are happy with Amazon.

        Why don't you go ahead and create an alternative to Amazon? What is stopping you?
        • That's brilliant. And what is stopping you flying to the moon? Seriously: Do the phrases "biased laws", "international influence", and "vast capital" mean nothing to you?

          Randism is damned entertaining in that its loudest proponents are often unremarkable except for their loudness -- a sort of self-unfulfilling prophecy -- but they do not seem to notice any irony but other people's.

          How does it feel to be superior to the rest of us by dint of often saying you are so?

          • In the world you live in, nobody will ever have a chance to create a meaningful competitor to Amazon. There are lots of counter examples to this throughout history. Look at Southwest Airlines Vs United and American.

            You are just arguing for your own self imposed choices and you want to impose them on everyone else. Why don't you just live and let live?

            Are you a socialist? If I made you king of the world today, what would you do about the problems caused by capitalism?
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:26AM (#12035089)
    I wonder how this will work if you give an Amazon-bought book to someone? As the registered buyer of the book, the gift giver would, presumably, have access to the electronic copy even as the give up the physical copy.

    That way you can give the book and read it too.

    I suppose the solution is a transferable ownership certificate (paper receipt with code or online transfer process -- yay, another claim for a patent), but I wonder how many people will actually bother to keep/give/input the certificate.
    • online transfer process -- yay, another claim for a patent

      If anyone wants to help beat them to the punch, I'll pony up the patent fee cash and we can submit this today.
    • To make the process complete when you give a book to someone else and relenquish the certificate, they'd have to wipe it from your memory so that no copies of the book remain when you pass it on.

      Kinda creepy when you think about it.

  • DRM for text (Score:2, Interesting)

    by octalgirl ( 580949 )

    If Amazon can pull off a successful digital rights management for text, then I'm all for it. As long as it's the publics right being protected more than the copyright holder. I think that is the biggest glitch with DRM for entertainment media - no one can figure out how to do it so the public rights are not infringed upon. With music downloading, there is no real way to determine if you own a copy or not. I know some movie/music publishers have tried to include some sort of access code along with purcha
    • Re:DRM for text (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AllUsernamesAreGone ( 688381 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @11:17AM (#12035568)
      Okay, I'll bite. Now this is going to sound a dumb question, but I am serious and I want a serious answer.

      How, exactly, does any DRM system ever ensure that "it's the publics right being protected more than the copyright holder", given that the entire point of DRM is to prevent the public from using material in any way other than those dictated by the copyright holder?
    • not so much a model for others as it is a revenue stream for amazon...

      amazon [bezos] hold the patents. others will only be able to do this if amazon licenses the patents. amazon has a history of not playing nice with e-commerce patents [eg one-click].

  • Another silly patent
    "1. A method for suppressing one or more features in an image of a page of content, comprising: (a) acquiring an image of a page of content; (b) identifying one or more features in the page image that are to be suppressed or not to be suppressed; and (c) preparing a substitute page image that only includes images of the identified features that are not to be suppressed. "

    This sounds to me like a log-in site , with a feature kind of like that which slashdot subscription has ,where you ca
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:28AM (#12035103)
    I didn't read the whole article, but, it seems that this tool is going to require you to already own books to be able to search them? How is this anything like the Library of Alexandria?

    Unfortunately I don't trust Amazon to do anything for the public good. Well, I don't trust most corporations to do such things. A repository of all the world's knowledge is awfully stupid if it requires you to pay for it. It will simply create another case where you have the haves and have nots.

    I think all the projects on WikiMedia are probably the most likely to present us with a repository of knowledge that is accessible to everyone.
    • by Hogwash McFly ( 678207 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @12:42PM (#12036413)
      it seems that this tool is going to require you to already own books to be able to search them?

      Now, now. That's no way to talk about Jeff Bezos.
    • Unfortunately I don't trust Amazon to do anything for the public good.

      Neither do I. In addition to this latest story, it's been clear for quite some time that Amazon has it's own political agenda - which of course, is their prerogative.

      Quoted from buyblue.org [buyblue.org]: This PAC supported politicians that amongst other things supported "safeguards" regulating TV news content, opposed the "freedom to read" amendment allowing federal funds to be used to demand patron records from bookstores and libraries, and
  • Who cares? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Broiler ( 804077 )
    I don't want to look at pictures of books anyway!
  • I was thinking abut this the other day when I looked something up at Amazon - at some point Amazon will have to decide if they are a reserch tool or a bookseller. Looks like they are leaning to bookseller. This is not a huge problem for me. I suspect that they will allow you to serch for a passaage, but not read much around it if you haven't bought said book. I think they so something like this now for people without active CC# on file. This seems fair, espically in the case of cookbooks; I for one buy
  • Does this mean I'm going to have to give the bookstore my Personal information when I buy the Anarchist Cookbook ?. I suppose there is no chance my book buying habit could fall into the hands of the feds ?
    • Does this mean I'm going to have to give the bookstore my Personal information when I buy the Anarchist Cookbook ?

      Hate to break this to you, Boy-O, but if you actually buy The Anarchist's Cookbook, you're a lousy Anarchist.

      In fact, I think the authors have made a special Poser's Edition available specifically for the people who offer to buy the ACB, with all the plastic explosive recipes altered just enough so that you blow your fool hands off...
    • I hate to tell you this, but if you pay for the books you now buy with a credit card, they can already track your purchases. Do you really think you can buy something with a card and send it to your home address and keep the feds from knowing? Of course, they'd have to be watching you specifically - but that's just because they know you know. (Which explains why the radio keeps shouting your name intermittently.)
  • My Take (Score:2, Insightful)

    My take on this patent application is to "sell" access to reference books - probably more for trade books than the the casual "Idiots Guide To XP".

    I can see a subscription service that allows you to browse through some medical text seeing bits and peices relevant to your search, but, not the entire page. To see the entire page, you gotta "buy" the page. The implication that you must first own the physical text is a red-herring - its really about rights to use the book in "whole, or in part".

    I can see it b
  • MP3.com (Score:4, Insightful)

    by telstar ( 236404 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @10:39AM (#12035178)
    "access to electronic images of text based on user ownership of corresponding physical text."
    • Isn't this precisely what MP3.com tried to do with audio files? If you could prove you had a CD of something, you could stream a digital version of the song to wherever you may be logged in. What's the difference?

  • Not much different than doing a conditional print from Word to a PDF file, does it?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Being a paid member of a digital library allows you to "borrow" an electronic version of a book. After reading it you "return it" by deleting it from your reading device.

    How is this different than a library? Am I gonna make a fortune off of this one? Great business model eh, Jeff?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    however the expression of that information might be copyrighted.

    I am buying fewer and fewer books. Most of what I want to know is available on the web. The information that isn't on the web isn't there because nobody took the time to put it there.

    I guess that what I'm saying is that restricting access to books mostly won't work. There is darn little information that doesn't make its way onto the web some way or another. For some things like law and medical libraries people have been able to cash in on
  • I beg to differ (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @11:01AM (#12035391) Journal
    Kahle makes the following statement:

    "We live in an open society in which the concept of widespread knowledge is embraced as a goal of governance,"

    Maybe in the overall big picture that is true but in the current political environment that statement is most certainly not true.

    The current administration has done and continues to do everything in its power to suppress the flow of knowledge and information. Witness the recent suppression of an EPA-funded study conducted by Harvard which found that the recent changes to rules regarding mercury emissions from U.S. power plants would have health benefits 100 times as great [boston.com] as the EPA said it would .

    Why the difference? Because according to the EPA and the Bush administration, more stringent controls would cost too much to industry compared to the public health benefit. Thus the analysis was stripped from the final report even though the findings of the analysis were used in a briefing by the EPA to the Washington Post on February 2nd.

    Even outside the administration the flow of knowledge is under attack. Witness the current effort by the Florida legislature to pass legislation which would allow students to sue professors [alligator.org] who the students claim were punishing the students for their beliefs. Included would be a situation when a professor challenges a student to explain their theories by using the Socratic method. In other words, simply state you have a belief but you don't have to provide any evidence or rationale to support this belief.

    Let us not forget the fiasco in my home state where Intelligent Design is being taught alongside Darwinian Evolution as a valid scientfic theory [aclu.org].

    Along those same lines, this very site posted a story yesterday [slashdot.org] about some IMAX theaters not showing a film because it contained references to evolution [nytimes.com].

    While Kahles overall sentiment is correct the current political environment is not conducive to the flow of knowledge and won't be for a fairly substantial time.

  • by spisska ( 796395 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @11:14AM (#12035534)
    The library of Alexandria was so extensive (and so important) precisely because they didn't do anything like this.

    Back in the day, any ship entering port at Alexandria had to declare any books, maps, written works, etc they were carrying as part the customs process. Anything that wasn't already held by the library was taken over and copied by hand, then returned.

    The library also allowed others to copy works that they held.

    The idea was that ships would create and add to star charts and other navigation tools that could be quickly (for the day) shared with other ships, who would then add their own observations. Everybody benefited, and the Mediterranian became a whole lot safer.

    The hoarding and guarding of knowledge didn't become popular in Europe until the Age of Discovery, when nautical charts and chronometer designs were the most closely guarded state secrets.

    Having all the books in one place (virtual or otherwise) certainly does make the knowledge more accessible for purchase, but locking down the contents is not quite what Alexandria was about.
    • First a comment, I thought that the copies were given to the people and that the originals were kept by the library.
      And a question, I thought that a PUBLIC library was a more modern idea and that the older libraries were more like modern private libraries. Did the library of Alexandria have any restrictions on who could use it?
    • Wow! that must have been inefficient. You sail into port with the latest issue of 'Saucy Sailors' magazine, the library wants to copy it so they have to send another bozo off to find the intellectual copyright holders and open negotiations for the right to copy the work.... There must have been boatloads of lawyers sailing back and forth all the time. I am suprised they had any room or time for cargo.
    • Back in the day, any ship entering port at Alexandria had to declare any books, maps, written works, etc they were carrying as part the customs process
      yeah, but that was before they got a Cease and Desist scroll from the "Maps & Papyrus Association of Assyria".
  • A technology where the chilling effect of software patents is a GOOD thing. Let's hope this is another area that goes stagnant due to patents.
  • Other comments have the DRM implications covered, but one aspect that particularly worries me is the implication that an image of text is as good as the text itself. Which is crap.

    As I said in another recent comment [slashdot.org], an image might work well if you're reading on a large screen, with a large window, reasonable resolution, a fast processor, reasonable storage or bandwidth, and so on. But there are umpteen other circumstances in which images would be inconvenient or impossible, yet text would work fine.


    • Something that wasn't mentioned in the article, nor so far here on /., is that OCR does not produce a digital copy of the text -- at least, not without a great deal of editing. When Google and various libraries announced their Google Print deal, they specified that the searching would be on "uncorrected OCR" of the text. I also suspect that Amazon is using uncorrected OCR, just for cost reasons. OCR also means that things like images, their captions, and any data in tables are not searchable. So although th

  • Last time there was a Amazon patent article on /. I posted saying they are patenting concepts. But this one is even worse. In fact I don't even know the appropriate word. What are they patenting, common sense? The very concept of (or conclusions you can make from) business?
  • Bigger Concerns (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Thursday March 24, 2005 @11:59AM (#12036004) Homepage Journal
    Lets say for a moment they can create another Alexandria, this time digital.

    Then most print books go out of style..

    Who is to stop someone from changing the text, to fit their needs/views/beliefs and claiming its 'always been that way'.. With no hard paper evidence to prove them wrong it gets accepted as fact.

    This already happens with book 'revisions' over time.. Subsequent generations get different 'facts', all twisted to fit the views of who is currently in control.

    Or even ought ban of information. "sorry, you don't need to know this" and poof it no longer exists. This is harder to do if people still own the hardcopy..

    Ok, so I'm paranoid, but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And I'm old enough to have seen it happen in the schools.
  • Free Library (Score:2, Informative)

    by Turbofish ( 585771 )
    At least not all publishers are adverse to the idea of open access to electronic versions of their publications. Check out the Baen Free Library at http://www.baen.com/library/ Baen is a publisher of Science Fiction and Fantasy literature.
  • As far as I can tell, they are only limiting the rights to books that have copyright issues. They are making these books more accessible than before, but without violating the wishes of the copyright holders.

    I wouldn't blame Amazon for this because they are merely respecting what the authors intended and upholding the law.

    If you want to fight Stallman's bleak vision of the future, the important thing to do is to ensure that there are no limitations on what code you can read, write, examine, and execute. M
  • Wouldn't it be great to sweep away all the legal and technical problems created by copyright? It's not a simple problem.

    We could eliminate the whole concept of music copyrights with minimal impact on musicians. By "musicians" I don't mean Madonna, I mean the 99.9999% of musicians who make no money from sales of copies. For reasons involving the way record contracts are written, which you can read about here [strangelove.com] and elsewhere, most musicians make zero money from sales of copies. They make money by actually perf
  • I'm wondering if this is somehow aimed at eventually preventing Google from a) searching Amazon.com's site and b) throwing a spanner into Google's efforts to scan the contents of several libraries into its archives.
  • I have been waiting for a "Patent Pending" to tell ./ers about my MEP, Richard Corbett. I think he is th only Labour party MEP on the right side. He tells me...

    I thought I would update you on this issue following recent developments.

    This issue is far from settled as there is a considerable difference of views between the European Parliament's first reading position and the political agreement reached in the Council (which has only just been formally adopted, but with growing reticence in some national

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan